Two jazz organizations explore the cultural, civic, and ecological history of Mt Tabor Park in Views of an Urban Volcano

Two jazz organizations explore the cultural, civic, and ecological history of Mt Tabor Park in Views of an Urban Volcano

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Two jazz organizations explore the cultural, civic, and ecological history of Mt Tabor Park in Views of an Urban Volcano

(Portland, OR) — Montavilla Jazz and Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble are opening up a community-guided creative process to the public as three composers craft new music inspired by Mt. Tabor Park and the stories that surround it. Three public events for Views of an Urban Volcano will take place Sunday, March 5th at 2 pm Oregon Historical Society; Saturday, March 18th at 4 pm at Taborspace’s Copeland Commons; and Saturday, April 15th at 10:30 am at Mt. Tabor Park, inviting participants to learn more about Mt. Tabor’s history in relationship to marginalized communities past and present and its significance as a greenspace in the city.

Three composers that are currently being selected through panel review will attend each of these community events to build a shared understanding of this iconic park’s role in the city. Their new works for the 12-member Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE) will be presented as part of the 2023 Montavilla Jazz Festival in a free, public concert at Mt. Tabor Park on September 1, 2023. The concert represents the culmination of 10 years of partnership between Montavilla Jazz and PJCE. Views of an Urban Volcano is presented in partnership with Friends of Mt. Tabor Park and the Oregon Historical Society with support from Oregon Cultural Trust and Regional Arts and Culture Council.

Community Event Details: 

  • Views of an Urban Volcano: A discussion on Mt. Tabor Park
    March 5th, 2023, 2–3:30 pm at Oregon Historical Society *FREE*
    1200 SW Park Ave. Portland, OR 97205
    (503) 222-1741
    Find more information and RSVP here.
    The event features a panel discussion on the history and impacts of Mt. Tabor Park from the perspectives of Portland’s Chinese, Black, and Indigenous communities from 1896–2020. Light refreshments will be available. 

Panelists include Hap Pritchard, Board Member, Friends of Mt. Tabor Park; David Harrelson, Cultural Resources Department manager and member of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde; Darrell Millner, Professor Emeritus of Black Studies at Portland State University; and Dr. Marie Wong, Professor Emerita, Seattle University Institute of Public Service, Asian Studies, and Public Affairs.

  • Views of an Urban Volcano: Community Forum
    March 18th, 2023, 4–5 pm at Taborspace’s Copeland Commons *FREE*
    5441 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR 97215
    (503) 954-2610
    Find more information and RSVP here.
    An open forum for lovers of Mt. Tabor Park to share their own stories about its significance with the composers. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet the selected composers and project leads, and contribute to the community-driven creative process.  
  • Views of an Urban Volcano: Guided Tour of Mt. Tabor Park
    April 15, 2023, at 10:30 am at Mt. Tabor Park Visitor Center *FREE*
    SE Salmon Way and, SE Park Dr, Portland, OR 97215 Map
    Find more information and RSVP here.
    Led by Friends of Mt Tabor Park, this 90-minute guided tour of the park will begin at the Mt. Tabor Visitor Center and highlight historical and cultural points of interest and the park’s impressive vistas. Participants should dress for the weather and bring their questions. 


March 5th Event Speaker Bios: 

David Harrelson is the Cultural Resources Department manager for The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde where he is also a tribal member.  David is active in his community and currently serves as an Oregon Arts Commissioner.  Working for over ten years in the field of Cultural Resources, David has championed the protection of archaeology sites, maintenance of ancestral lifeways, and proliferation of indigenous art forms throughout his Tribe’s homelands in Western Oregon.

Dr. Darrell Millner graduated in 1975 from the University of Oregon with a doctorate in Education and was then hired by Portland State University to teach Afro-American Literature and History in the Black Studies Department. Dr. Millner served as Department Chair of Black Studies from 1984-1995, and is currently Professor Emeritus and continues to teach as an adjunct faculty member in the department. He serves on numerous local, regional, and national boards and organizations. Dr. Millner is an expert on the history of African-Americans in the western movement with a special focus on the Oregon and California trail experiences, early Oregon and California black history, and the history of the Black Buffalo soldiers in the Indian wars.

Hap Pritchard and his wife moved to the Portland area in 2004 to be close to their two children and their grandchildren. The move coincided with his retirement from a career at the EPA and a final three-year stint at the Danish National Environmental Research Laboratory where he was a senior research fellow.

Dr. Marie Rose Wong is a Professor Emerita with the Institute of Public Service at Seattle University. Wong’s research investigates urban planning and policy, housing, and land use with a focus on Asian American settlements.  Her presentations and publications center on Asian American history and urban development that include several articles, a book on Portland, Oregon’s first Chinese communities entitled Sweet Cakes, Long Journey: The Chinatowns of Portland, Oregon (2004, 2012), and the history of Seattle’s Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino settlement entitled Building Tradition: Pan-Asian Seattle and Life in the Residential Hotels (2018). She is currently working on book projects that chronicle the histories of Seattle’s Japanese American community baseball, and Seattle’s Luck Ngi Chinese Music Club.

About Montavilla Jazz: Montavilla Jazz is a nonprofit community organization that engages an inclusive cross-section of musicians, collaborative artists, students, music lovers, neighbors, and businesses, promoting forward-thinking artistry and offering platforms for risk-taking, experimentation, and the creation of new works, adding to the diversity and strength of our community.

About PJCE: Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to create original jazz music that engages and supports our community’s diverse artists, cultures, and place. In operation since 2008, PJCE is the only organization dedicated to commissioning and performing original music by Portland musicians, building a broad audience through unique, collaborative and community-oriented programming that builds bridges between communities in this vibrant city. 

Call for Composers: PJCE Concert @ Mt. Tabor Park for the 10th Annual Montavilla Jazz Festival

Call for Composers: PJCE Concert @ Mt. Tabor Park for the 10th Annual Montavilla Jazz Festival


Call for Composers: PJCE Concert @ Mt. Tabor Park for the 10th Annual Montavilla Jazz Festival

Montavilla Jazz and Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble launch a search for three composers to create place-inspired works for the 10th Festival PJCE concert in Mt. Tabor Park in September, 2023.

PORTLAND, ORMontavilla Jazz and Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE) celebrate a nearly 10-year partnership with a new collaborative project for the 2023 season and the upcoming 10th Annual Montavilla Jazz Festival. The Mt. Tabor Project supports an expansion of the festival with an outdoor concert at the beautiful Mt. Tabor Park Caldera Amphitheater on September 1st, 2023. At this concert Montavilla Jazz and PJCE will present three world premieres by local artists in celebration of ten-years of collaborative programming. 

Montavilla Jazz and PJCE will convene a diverse panel of community stakeholders with input from Friends of Mt. Tabor and other relevant community groups to select three composers from the submissions received. The selection panel will score each applicant based on the substance and creativity of their Statement of Interest & Qualifications, their work samples, and their readiness to achieve the project’s goals. This project is made possible with support from Oregon Cultural Trust.

APPLICATION DATES: Monday, November 21, 2022–Friday, January 6, 2023

Complete application details at https://forms.gle/NUV1utG4QpF4kxxr7.  



About PJCE: The Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble is a 12-piece jazz chamber orchestra which commissions and performs original works by its members and by other jazz composers in the Portland music community and beyond.

About Montavilla Jazz: The mission of Montavilla Jazz is to support and strengthen local music culture and enrich our community by showcasing the best of Portland jazz. 


Artist Spotlight: Mel Brown & Gordon Lee at Portland Piano Company

Artist Spotlight: Mel Brown & Gordon Lee at Portland Piano Company

Throughout the summer the our team met up with MJF 2019 artists at a few of our favorite neighborhood spots. This interview with Mel Brown and Gordon Lee took place at Portland Piano Company, located at 8700 NE Columbia Blvd., on July 5, 2019. Portland Piano Company has supported Montavilla Jazz Festival as a Gold Level Partner since 2014…


Describe the project you’re bringing to the festival.

GL: Well, I’m very happy to be playing with Mel who has played with me in so many situations–thousands of situations–over the years. But this is actually the first time that we will have played my music together in a big band format. Though I believe he’s heard the big band and a couple of times, and Mel has played smaller group versions of some of these songs, because I’ve been working with the Mel Brown Septet for all these years, and before that the sextet, and before that that quintet–we keep multiplying, you know. Mel has played some of these songs, but I change the arrangements, the instrumentation, depending on who is playing the music. It’ll be exciting for me to do this music with Mel.


MB: Yeah, it will be exciting and new for me too because I don’t know what the charts are going to look like.


GL: They’re going to look okay (laughs).


MB: I’m looking forward to seeing the charts because, you know, I’ve been listening to the CD, and I’m reminded that when we used to rehearse, we would get together at Gordon’s house–this is with the quintet, and later with the sextet–we would take the music and pull it completely apart and put it back together again. Within an hour’s time we would come out with ten or twelve well-arranged tunes. The way we rehearsed, we didn’t just sit there and jam. We wanted to know exactly how the music was going to be played. We played it very slowly, and we would work out the quirks, and then play as fast as we were able, and then we would work at the tempo it was intended to be played on the gig. There were no solos in rehearsal so that when we went to work you didn’t know what that part was going to sound like, and that kept everyone’s attention. No one came to the gig and went to sleep.


You know, Gordon writes some difficult stuff but certain times you need a magnifying glass to see it because on his charts he would write so small!


GL: No, no, I use Finale now.


MB: Oh, yeah. Well that’s different. Well, that’s great.

Can you describe what it will be like to work with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE) on this project?

GL: I’m excited to be working with the PJCE because I did a concert just a couple of months ago with them that I feel came off really well, which is great because it’s a jazz composers orchestra. They don’t want just the standard stock arrangements. They want something that’s going to be different. I’ve always thought of my writing style as a little different, and I think Mel would agree. Honestly, I’m so used to people looking at my music the first time reading through it and, seriously, they just go, “what the?” That’s almost always the first reaction and I say: “Let’s play it a few more times and you’ll start to hear it and then you’ll start to get it”. It happens so often that I expect that now.


I write a lot of counterpoint in my music for large ensemble. So that’s a little different than some jazz arrangers where everything happens as an ensemble. I’ll pit the first tenor against the second tenor sometimes which takes some getting used to.

Is there a story behind project?

GL: We’ll play a song that I played a lot with Mel in the septet called Vicious Cycle, and we will do a big band arrangement of that. I wrote that song when I was living in New York and it was a dog-eat-dog, very competitive scene. I was trying to survive working as a musician. “Vicious Cycle” was very appropriate for describing that scene at the same time. I think it’s sort of an upbeat positive song actually, but to me, the meaning behind it is you have to persevere. There’s also a pun there because the cycle of chords is not easy. So it is a vicious cycle of chords as well. We’re very fortunate to have John Gross and Renato Caranto in the band, and I’m going to try to match them up, maybe more than once. So we’ll have some serious tenor battles. Neither one of those guys is a slouch. When they square off there could be some heavy weight punching happening.

Which artists are you excited to hear at MJF 2019?

MB: I’d like to see everybody on the festival because the problem that I have around town here is that I’ve got the steady gigs and I don’t get the chance to get out and see these other groups play. By the time I finish up and pack up the drums, they’re packing up. It will be interesting to see it from beginning to end because some of these groups, I don’t know what they sound like. Oh yeah, it’s going to be good.


GL: I notice here that a few of the people here on this program were students of both Mel and I. Sherry Alves was a student of mine. Dana Reason was a student of mine. Ian Christensen, I knew him when he was this little young tenor player. He was at the Mel Brown Jazz Camp I think for several years.


So, you know Mel Brown and I had a jazz camp at Western Oregon University and I believe Ian was a student at the camp more than a few times. It’s cool when you get to be our age and you start to see your students as professionals. These are talented people, and look, they’re doing something with the music!


Sherry started as a counselor and then she went on to become the camp coordinator, and she also ran the vocal portion of the camp.


MB: I’m trying to put that list together of all our former students at the Mel Brown Jazz Camp because we did that thing together for nineteen years. We got the gig because of Gordon. Gordon got the job teaching down at Western Oregon. And we got the camp started there and all of a sudden the name Mel Brown Jazz Camp got really big. Yeah, and the next thing you know we were competing with Portland State, Mount Hood, Clark and we began to draw in all the best of the young High School talent down to Monmouth. So next thing I know I start getting phone calls: “Hey Mel, if you need an extra trumpet player or an extra tenor player to come teach at your camp give me a call”.

We’re here at Portland Piano Company, they provide the Steinway for our main stage. Tell us about the piano. 

GL: You know, I remember really enjoying playing this piano at the festival before and it’s so great that Portland Piano is our piano sponsor. There is a huge difference between playing a piano and playing a keyboard. So I relish the opportunity to play a real piano that responds. There’s a different energy coming out of an acoustic piano and I always prefer that that sound if possible. So I am so thankful to have that opportunity.

Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians that might be reading this?

MB: That’s a good a question, because I would be speaking from my experience of what I did to get to where I am right now. The kids of today did not grow up the way I grew up. You have kids that are going to school and they learn to play their instrument really well, but they have not had a chance to work six nights a week playing in a band five hours a night. And they may not have the opportunity from that type of experience to learn how to work well with other musicians in a band. 


I’ve noticed that people don’t spend as much time practicing time like drummers do. Certain guitar players or saxophone players, they practice scales and everybody in the band might feel the time differently, and the first thing they’re going to do is blame the drummer, you’re dragging, you’re speeding up. So what we used to do with the quintet, and Gordon will tell you this, if someone in the band did something like that I would stop playing and leave him out there on a couple of choruses by himself. That’s when you’ll find out how well you play time by yourself.


So practicing playing time is key, but also knowing that this is a business. Just because you are an excellent musician, that doesn’t mean that if you get a record contract, you’re gonna make a million dollars. You have to deal with managers, the people booking shows, and the whole bit. If it’s something that you really like to do, please pursue the musical life, but you have to have something as a back-up plan. If you can’t make it in the music business, what do you do? So don’t lose the dream but also have other dreams that you can get into.


GL: Well from my perspective I think what’s consistent about creative music is that improvisation is very important. All the great composers going back hundreds of years, they were great improvisers and they got a lot of their ideas for composing their music from improvising. There should be a big focus on rhythm, your rhythm should be perfect or as solid as it can be. You need a complete understanding of melody and a complete understanding of harmony. I try to find what’s consistently present in a great hip-hop artist nowadays, in Miles Davis in the 80s, and in Coltrane in the 60s, in Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk in the 40s. The one thing that all these people have in common is their rhythm is or was great. They all have a great way of playing time and they really understand harmony and melody. So I think it’s important for young people to employ that understanding, use it in whatever style they want, but that it’s really important to understand those basics.

What’s your take on the jazz scene in Portland?

GL: When I first came here in 1977 because I had become friends with Richard Burdell, a trumpet player. I met Richard at Indiana University when I was a student playing jazz. He talked about Portland like it was the promised land. He would say: “There’s so many gigs and great players”. So I came here and I immediately fell into this thing, I started playing with all these really great players. So then by the 80s I had moved to New York and lived there for five years, I came back to Portland because the pace was slower, it was easier, it wasn’t as expensive. I think that it’s the lifestyle that attracts so many great musicians like Leroy Vinegar, Dave Frishberg, or Randy Porter, you know, great musicians that would stand out in any scene anywhere, and yet they live here because there’s something about the lifestyle. They realize maybe they’re not going to be rich and famous, but they’re going to have a good life and they’re going to play good music with good musicians. That’s a very rare thing. I don’t think there’s many other places, well maybe in the world, but certainly in America where that’s true.


MB: You know, I think what has happened is that there are a lot of people here in Portland that really enjoy the music and they like the idea of having places to go to hear the music, but they’re not going to be the first one to make a move. When I first got back here from New York in ’75 they had hardly anything going on around town jazz-wise. So I just went out and rented a place not far from the Crystal Ballroom. I was a big fan of Michael Corleone from The Godfather. I started something on a Sunday from three o’clock until eight o’clock, because here in Portland, in the winter time it rains, and after the football game, and after church, what do you do? You stay inside. But there was no place for guys that wanted to play so I just took my own money and rented a place––I think it’s a tuxedo place now over by I-405. People said: “Hey, Mel Brown came back and he’s the drummer that was with the Temptations, let’s see what’s going on”. So I started a group, a quintet, with a piano player from a group called Pleasure. We had a bass player who was a student at Mount Hood Community College, that was Essiet Essiet, and we had George Lawson playing alto, and I had Thara Memory playing trumpet, and myself.


We charged a dollar a head to come in and after a couple of weeks, I was paying the guys like eighty-five dollars per musician. Someone says: “This guy came back from New York, this black dude, and he’s semi-famous, let’s start something over here like what he’s doing”. So all of a sudden there was a place that was over by the old Candlelight Room and they started having sessions on Sunday: “Let’s compete with them over there”. Okay, cool, I thought, at least there’s another place opening up. That’s when I decided to change it up, I went to a place called the Prima Donna that was right on the corner, an Italian restaurant, and I started to play four nights a week. 


Then we had this place that eventually turned into the Jazz Quarry, they started having music. Somebody else started having some music at another place and all of a sudden the competition thing got to be real strong. I said: “Okay, I’m going to Japan with the Supremes. I’ll leave Thara in charge”. And then eventually I came back and things were not running as well as I would have liked, and I jumped back into it again.


At that time I wanted to do something to get away from the Motown thing. I love Art Blakey. So we started the group in ’86 with me and Gordon, Michael York, and Tim Gilson, and Thara. We started playing at this place called The Hobbit and what happened was that the band was so strong, that I wanted the group to do a show kind of like we did in Motown, which meant once we start playing we don’t stop. We used to play for two and a half hours non-stop, but you never knew what was going to come next. We didn’t just play tunes where everybody takes a solo and then we move on to the next song. We would have maybe two soloists and then maybe Tim (on bass) would set up something for the next tune. I did that on purpose because most of the time if you get down to a bass solo people start talking, then you have to get their attention again. My thing was that if you have to go to the bathroom, go now or you might miss something. We had everybody’s attention.


Then all the horn players in town starting trying to compete with what we were doing. At that time everybody was playing in trios in the small clubs. Gradually the horn players started getting together, and they started forming big bands like the Mount Hood Kicks Big Band and other groups. Yeah, and by building the scene we got most of the musicians really working. These guys are saying, “this is great, I’m starting to make some money now, I met a lady who’s got a nine-to-five job, I’ve got some kind of backup, I’ve got a house I can stay in, I’m not staying in an apartment sharing it with four or five other people” like we used to do in New York.


And plus you can go outside and see grass, you don’t have a train running outside your door. And then other musicians are thinking, “Hey, why don’t we move here to Portland?”


In Portland we welcomed musicians from New York and the East Coast because it’s somebody new the jazz community can learn from. They would say: “Hey man, nice to see you come into town, if you need a place to stay you can stay at my place until you get on your feet”. Musicians welcomed each other. There wasn’t a backstabbing type of thing like in some scenes.


That’s what caused the change musically around here. After a certain period of time of a lot of musicians who couldn’t get into the studio in L.A. started moving up here because they have relatives or they look at music scene and they think, “Hey, I kind of like this”. In Portland people like each other, they help each other out, whereas in L.A., it was totally different. In L.A. it was like: “Hey, listen, I’m in the studio if I get you a gig, you owe me. So next time you get a gig, you better call me or I’m going to defriend you”. And all of a sudden they started moving up here.


We didn’t have the social media thing, people just knew where we were playing because of the regularity. That’s what’s missing right now. We just need more venues.

Mel Brown and Gordon Lee with the PJCE (artist page)
Sunday, August 18, doors open: 8:00 p.m., set begins: 8:10 p.m.
Sunday Headliner Tickets, RSVP on Facebook!

Photography by Kathryn Elsesser.

Artist Spotlight: Kathleen Hollingsworth at Hungry Heart

Artist Spotlight: Kathleen Hollingsworth at Hungry Heart

Throughout the summer our team met up with MJF 2019 artists at a few of our favorite neighborhood spots. This interview with Kathleen Hollingsworth took place at Hungry Heart Bakery, located at 414 SE 80th Ave in Montavilla, on July 5, 2019. Hungry Heart has supported Montavilla Jazz Festival by providing wonderful desserts for our last two Season Reveal fundraisers…


Describe your connection to the Portland jazz scene and community.

Well, I came here to teach at Clackamas Community College when I got the full time position there. I had just come from Miami for three years where I was working on my jazz chops. So I came here to teach at Clackamas and then started going to jam sessions and meeting people, and now I’ve kind of established myself with my own band, writing music for PJCE. I’m definitely not a side-person, I’m not usually hired as a side person, I’m more of a front-person who writes and sings and plays. I’ve gotten to know people through my music but also through collaborating with PJCE, going to jam sessions and hanging out with people.

Describe the project you’re bringing to Montavilla Jazz Festival 2019.

Mad love is a band that performs mostly my own compositions and arrangements and we don’t generally do standards that much, that’s not what we do, things are more arranged and composed. I write a lot of music that is usually inspired somehow by nature or things I like to do in nature like riding which allows me to write. I love to write. If I weren’t a musician probably would have been an English major because I love writing. Writing lyrics over time has become my way to express how I see and feel in this realm. Putting the music together allows me to meld a lot of genres like jazz, from a harmonic perspective, and from a form perspective, but I’m definitely not straight ahead by any means. There’s some rock and little bit of country and a little bit of Americana all kind of fused in there.

Is there a story behind this project?

So when I first got here, I started playing with Brent Follis pretty early on like within the first two years we met. He just called me out of the blue and he said hey, I hear you’re looking for a drummer. So then we started playing in a duo at Nonna for a year or two. And in that time I really learned to trust him as a human being and as a musician we just had a vibe going.


Through that trust building process and through his allowance of my music to develop and the fact that he really likes my music, I decided to take it a little more seriously until I chill I gained enough trust with him that I started looking more seriously for bass player and then starting to think more about putting out another album with just this music. I started seriously looking for a bass player and then the name of the band came about pretty magically and so here we are.

Which artists are you excited to hear at MJF 2019?

All of them. Well, I’m psyched for Sherry that she’s at PSU. We kind of both did the same thing academically with taking the doctoral route. She sounds great. She’s doing the straight ahead thing and she sounds great with George (Colligan). I like it when people take time to really work up their stuff, you know, and it takes a long time to do a doctorate and it’s not easy.

Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians that might be reading this?

You know everyone should have some piano chops, all musicians, in addition to whatever instrument that happens to be your main instrument. All singers should have experience with the keyboard because everything is right there and it makes you confident to be able to speak the language. Everything is right there. And if you can understand that then theory is easy, communicating with the band is easy, writing becomes easier.


In this day and age for Millennials when everything is so easy because of technology, understand that one of the things that’s so brilliant about music is that it takes a long time. It takes time. It is an art that you craft over years and years. I don’t think that we value that as much, the younger generation, because everything so quick. They get everything at the touch of a button, you don’t download this, it’s really important and it takes time.


We want everything so fast and so quick now and the younger generation really needs to remember through ART we have longevity. Through music: dedication.

What’s your take on the current state of the jazz and creative music scene in Portland?

Thank God for PSU, and thank God for PJCE, and thank God for PDX Jazz and all these organizations that are really trying to keep things moving. And the nice thing is because Portland so hip right now a lot of people moving here from towns where you just can’t make it and survive as a jazz musician. Here you can sort of piece together a living as a musician. I think that there is actually a great audience here for jazz. There’s a great audience here in Portland for music in general. There’s so many times I go out and play and the audience is listening and attentive. Not always, but a lot of times there’s this vibe in Portland that is very attentive to art and creativity. So that’s a plus.


The million dollar question, that I continually ask myself is how do serve that audience, how do you keep them coming back? How do you push that compositional envelope so that people want to continue to hear you?

Can you share any thoughts about Mel Brown and Gordon Lee and their contributions to Portland jazz during their careers?

Oh man, it’s deep it’s meaningful. Those guys are the real deal, they’re playing the real deal and thank God for that, we need to hang on to that too. And that history is good for Portland is good for the scene to have all of that melded into the soup pot of jazz.


Whenever I hang out with Gordon, I love him. He’s the hang you know, and there’s always laughter, there’s always carrying-on. That sense of the hang is so important to this music. As somebody from through education world, I know that that connection that roots communication, that roots hang, if that’s not part of the music then everyone is a bunch of  jazz-holes, you know what I mean? You got to be fun to hang around, and those guys are.

Kathleen Hollingsworth: Mad Love (artist page)
Sunday, August 18, doors open: 1:00 p.m., set begins: 1:30 p.m.
Sunday Day Passes, RSVP on Facebook!

Photography by Kathryn Elsesser.

Artist Spotlight: Sherry Alves and George Colligan at Vestal School

Artist Spotlight: Sherry Alves and George Colligan at Vestal School

Throughout the summer our team met up with MJF 2019 artists at a few of our favorite neighborhood spots. This interview with Sherry Alves and George Colligan took place at Vestal School, located at 161 NE 82nd Ave in Montavilla, on June 21, 2019. Vestal School has partnered with Montavilla Jazz Festival since 2015, hosting our Jazz Artist-in-Residency pilot program in 2019…


Describe your connection to the Portland jazz scene and community.

SA: I’m from Oregon, but I spent a lot of time in the Salem area, performing teaching at Western Oregon University. I went to University of Northern Colorado for two years. And then before I finished my degree, I applied for the open position at Portland State. So, before I moved to Colorado, I did perform sometimes in Portland, and I have a lot of connections with Portland musicians, and I learned from Mel Brown and Gordon Lee, and Ed Bennett. Most recently my connection is as Professor at Portland State and right now I’m sort of in this funny, “in-between” where I’m I’m spending a lot of time at Portland State and spending a lot of time still trying to finish my own degree. So, my involvement with the Portland jazz scene is there, but it’s not what I want it to be. I just have a few things to finish. I think there’s there’s room for growth. But it’s nice to come home and be in the same town, not an hour south from all the people that I enjoyed working with before. It’s pretty exciting.


GC: Well, I grew up on the East Coast near Baltimore, in Columbia, Maryland, which was a progressive planned community. I started out as a classical trumpet player. Right now, I’m an associate professor and the Jazz Area Coordinator at Portland State. When this job came up in 2011, I was like, Portland has a lot of great things going for it. 


It’s changed a lot in the past eight years; The jazz scene changed a lot, some for the better, some for the worse. My own personal connection with the scene is as a bit of an outsider still, because I’m not from the area. It’s sort of hard to break into it. But I do think that it does have its charms, and a lot of potential. You don’t have to call for 10 years just to get one gig. You might have a chance of playing at these venues, and you can find parking and get there in 20 minutes. In the past few years, there have been a bunch of places closing, but there are some places that are popping up. That’s sort of been the feeling for the past couple years; a place will pop up and it will thrive, and then it will shut down. But there are a few places now. I feel pretty good about it, and things like the MJF of course are a step in the right direction, for sure. And I think the changes at PDX Jazz are encouraging. 


SA: I don’t come from my particularly musical family, not in a trained sense. My mom was a dance teacher. And so I danced growing up, kind of everything from jazz and tap  and pretty hardcore classical ballet classes. So I’ve always liked music and dancing, and my dad always played jazz on the radio. On Sundays, he’d make breakfast and my sister and I would dance on the carpet in the living room to jazz while he would take the family egg orders. So that’s probably my earliest recollection.


I think I could say that I always knew that I would be part of the arts or be some sort of performer. I just went on a limb and applied for music school in my senior year, and my choir teacher encouraged me, and I just went for it. I have no idea what it what would become of that many was really hard, but I stuck it out and it’s been worth it. 

Describe the project you’re bringing to Montavilla Jazz Festival 2019.

GC: Well, Sherry has the chops in a way that nobody else does in town, and I’ve worked with a lot of singers. It’s rare to have vocalists who are so professional and so flexible that they can do your music, or do some music that they haven’t seen for 10 years. The thing I noticed when Sherry auditioned for Portland State was the wide variety of things that she could do musically, artistically, and with a lot of precision and professionalism. 


SA: I’m constantly on the lookout for is lesser-known material that moves me. I like to be technical and do things that just feel musically, and it feels good to be challenged, but I’m always on the lookout for material that makes me feel something and challenges me. But as far as just playing with George, it’s just always felt really natural. I’ve worked with a lot of great chordal players I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great people in Portland and Christopher Woitach is one of my favorites, Dan Gaynor, there’s so many great folks out there that I feel really comfortable with, but when I played with George it was like an immediate comfort and trust. I could just kind of sit back and let it unfold. I’m inspired by the things he does. Hopefully it goes both ways! 

Is there a story behind this project?

GC: All of the songs will have a distinct flavor. When I lived in Winnipeg, there was a music series at a bookstore, and the guy who ran it asked me if I wanted to be the songwriter in residence. I was more of a composer than a songwriter, and I hadn’t really tried to like write lyrics, but then I started doing it. I got it to writing songs kind of just got into not caring so much about whether it was like the greatest thing, you know, and I tried to be a little bit more improvisational about it. 


I hired the vocal students at the University of Manitoba. I wrote like 60 songs… there’s nothing else to do in Winnipeg, you can’t go outside! So it forces you to be productive.

Which artists are you excited to hear at MJF 2019?

SA: Well, I love the B3 organ group and the Charlie Porter Quintet. And I just think Kathleen Hollingsworth is so cool and so giving of herself in so many ways. She’s always doing something for the community, for the students, and then finding the time to write her own music, so I’m always inspired by that. 


GC: Kerry Politzer – I’m playing on her set. Mel Brown is a great connection with the tradition. The times I’ve played with Mel Brown myself, it’s like I really hear this depth of understanding of the jazz tradition, which is fantastic.


Ez Weiss is one of our faculty here at Portland State; he is a really great arranger and obviously this will show that off. Dana Reason did a master class recently at Portland State. So I’d be curious to hear that. 


Gordon Lee and I have crossed paths. He has very interesting compositions. I have no idea what they sound like in a big band setting. I’m anxious to find out; in fact, that kind of gives me some ideas. At Portland State, we are developing our big band. One of my ideas is to have guest composers,  guest performers, for our seasonal concerts. That might be a good thing to do. 


SA: I have known Gordon since I was a kid. He was my sight-singing and ear-training teacher in college at Western Oregon. This sounds funny, but I hear he really likes to talk about me because he’s really proud of me as a pupil, so he tells me every time I see him. I look up to him and we’ve done a lot together over the years.

Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians that might be reading this?

SA: I really feel that if you, the young musician, have the desire and the work ethic, whether that’s going to college or doing things on your own, it’s going to take work, but I think that there’s a place for everyone who wants to be an artist. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to perhaps even have your dream job, but I think that’s pretty average, but I think I think a lot of students come in wondering if they should even start, and I don’t think that’s the way to approach it. There’s room for everybody and if they if they want to learn they can learn, and then they then they can go and apply it to their lives however they want.


So I guess my big message is to go for it and do not be afraid of taking the time for yourself. We were in a jury last winter where a student wasn’t sure what they wanted to do. And one of the other people was like, do it now. You will come back to this at some point in your life and wish you’d stuck with it  – you love this. Take the time now, while you’re young. 


GC: My parents always told me and my sister to find something that we really love to do, I’m very lucky that I found something that I have a passion for. It depends on what is important to you in your life. I mean, it gets harder now because of the way our economy is working, or not working, I should say. But for some people it’s all about the money, and it just can’t be if you’re going to be an artist. The business of music is kind of a separate thing, but it’s something that I stress a lot. Being a great musician and having business success in music are kind of two different skills. 


When you become a professional, you don’t necessarily put all your emotional eggs in the basket of every performance. It’s like, that was just a gig, I’ll have another gig tomorrow where I can play better.


SA: As a vocalist, I think it’s important to gather as many skills as possible. People respond to performers for how they connect or what they sound like, their storytelling ability all that stuff. But I I remember starting a pretty young age listening to what people said about vocalists, the stereotypes, and trying to do the opposite. So in one of my early gigs, there were no charts for the gig. I’d never transcribed anything, but I transcribed the parts for everyone in the band. And immediately, the band wanted to know who wrote it and they were shocked that it was me.


And I felt like I just like took a step up from that stereotype that people think about vocalists. Ever since then, I’ve tried to fill in those blanks. So I made sure I could read music, I can sight-read a gig. I just practically sight-read with the Chris Brown project last weekend, a full Steely Dan show. No rehearsal with that band.


And it’s so fulfilling to see those skills that you learned can be not just useful but empowering. I can write my own charts. I can write for horns. I can write a big band chart. I can write a choir chart. I can teach people how to do it. I know how to use notation. I know how to play piano. It’s so important. And you think, when are you going to use sight-singing, ear-training, when am I going to use this? When am I going to have to write a big band chart? You know what, what somebody will ask you. And you’ll be able to say yes.

What’s your take on the current state of the jazz and creative music scene in Portland?

GC: Could be better, could be worse.


SA: There is numerous talent and creativity going on in this community. But in order for it to survive and grow, hopefully, the community needs to invest in that art. It’s not free and if Portland wants to have an artistic community, they need to recognize that artists need the support to be artists. And I don’t think this is a Portland problem specifically; its universal. That we can afford to Invest – whether that’s paying a cover, or giving scholarships, buying a record. That’s a start. Artists need support. 

Can you share any thoughts about Mel Brown and Gordon Lee and their contributions to Portland jazz during their careers?

GC: I know what they sound like as musicians, but I’d like to hear this big band, which can be very different. I’ve never heard Mel Brown play with a big band, so that’s going to be great. 


SA: They are both dear to me, because I’ve seen them in so many different aspects as performers and as educators. They are very giving and kind, and have been, in my experience, very warm, and have inspired and supported me as I grew. So it’s nice to see them here and to be like hey, guys, we’re still in this! 

Sherry Alves with George Colligan (artist page)
Sunday, August 18, doors open: 1:00 p.m., set begins: 4:10 p.m.
Sunday Day Passes, RSVP on Facebook!

Photography by Kathryn Elsesser.

Gold Partner Spotlight: East Side Printing Company

Gold Partner Spotlight: East Side Printing Company

The Montavilla Jazz Festival is proud have the East Side Printing Co. as a partner for the third consecutive year, since before their name change from PDX QuickPrint. They’re a local print shop that does it all, from business cards and newsletters to posters and banners. You name it, they can print it. They love helping businesses and organizations that give back to their communities like the MJF, and they’re super approachable. Just stop by the shop and say hi!